I feel I have always defended Kanye West whenever he does something to get him in the spotlight. This has been getting harder recently as his arrogance has been so overbearing for so many people and he seems to alienate more and more of his fan base. Usually I do not like to put too much of a focus on an artist’s personality outside of their music but with Kanye, his persona has bled into his music so much that it is hard to ignore.
After toying with his fans expectations for this record by renaming it four times, constantly changing the track list, and delaying it even after debuting what was supposed to be the final product at Madison Square Garden. This showed Kanye had no idea what he wanted with this project which had me very worried but I stayed positive and tried to listen to this album with an open mind.
I really struggled with how I felt about this album until it clicked that this album is a perfect expression of what Kanye has been these past few days. He is just throwing all his thoughts at the wall, which would just explain why this album is so much less focused than his previous works.
This is not to say this leads to a bad album, just an inconsistent one. And that does not just mean some songs are great and others are not. The individual songs are inconsistent themselves. The track “30 Hours” starts strong with Kanye looks back at a previous relationship, something he does throughout this album, and for the most part it is a strong, effective track even if it completely wastes the great Andre 3000. Then Kanye just lets the song drag on far too long before taking a phone call and ending the song. The same goes for the closing track “Fade” which features a catch beat but awful lyrics that end The Life of Pablo on a sour note.
Many of the standout tracks were already released ahead of the release of this album. The song “Real Friends” has this very somber sound and has Kanye going back to rapping with heart and clarity about how his lifestyle has changed his relationship with others. This same theme of being hurt by fame is seen in the track “No More Parties in LA” which utilizes a Ghostface Killah sample and a Kendrick Lamar feature excellently. Kendrick essentially takes over the first half of this song and delivers an amazing verse that is very welcomed compared to what Kanye himself delivers on this album.
While Kanye delivers some great verses, this is not the only time he is overshadowed by his guest features on this album. On the opener “Ultralight Beam,” the soulful vocals of Kelly Price and Chance the Rappers witty and powerful verse make Kanye one of the least interesting parts of this strong, gospel-inspired track. The same goes for the underwritten “Waves” where Chris Brown does some of his best work in recent memory while Kanye is just passable. Even though I kind of like the song, Frank Ocean is definitely better than what I was given on “Wolves.”
As for lyrics, not all of the bars here are home runs and some come across quite poorly. On “Father Stretch My Hands, Pt. 1” Kanye paints an unflattering picture saying “If I fuck this model/And she just bleached her asshole/And I get bleach on my T-shirt/I’mma feel like an asshole.” I am sorry, this is just bad rapping and something I thought was below Kanye. There is also the verse on “Highlights” where Kanye throws a weak diss at Ray J with “I bet me and Ray J would be friends/If we ain’t love the same bitch/Yeah, he might have hit it first/Only problem is I’m rich.” Not only is this the kind of braggadocios arrogance that fails horribly, it just sounds bad. The whole sandwich metaphor on the song “Wolves” also comes across as odd and awkward.
Considering how much attention it has been getting I feel I must address the Taylor Swift controversy. On the song “Famous,” Kanye starts a verse of playful verse about how much fame he has by stating he and Taylor might still have sex because he “made that bitch famous.” Honestly, in my mind, this has blown up far more than it has needed to. I do not think Kanye was being serious when he said this, he was just trying to make a statement about his fame and it just did not come across well. I understand why people would be upset and I do not think that “bitch” should be seen as an endearing term but I am not going to be protesting this anytime soon.
Kanye does have some moments where his genius shines and he delivers what his dedicated fans want. The little skit “I Love Kanye” is a funny rap song about how people are disappointed with what Kanye has become and it honestly brought me back to the skits of Kanye’s first two albums. And like I mentioned before songs like “Real Friends” and “No More Parties in LA” show Kanye has the ability to make another classic. “FML” also shows an emotional part of Kanye as he raps about trying to stay faithful to his wife and not acting in a promiscuous way that will ruin his life. This is only amplified by The Weeknd’s verse which seems to imply this part of Kanye is bound to come out eventually.
As hard as I feel like I have been on this album, it mostly comes from a place of disappointment from me. With some more cohesion, this could have been another My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy but instead we got a mess. It is a mess that people will be able to look at and get something out of. As for me, this just did not truly satisfy me and frustrates me because of how great it could have been. Tracks like “Freestyle 4,” “Low Lights,” and “Facts” do not need to be here and could have been replaced by stuff with more content. It seems Kanye is having a meltdown at the moment and this album is just evidence of that so I am hoping that he can get his personal life straightened out before he goes back into the studio. This is not bad but we could be getting so much better, which I am hoping for in the future.
Best Tracks: Ultralight Beam, FML, Real Friends. No More Parties in LA
Worst Track: Freestyle 4